Sustainable Investing in 2024

The Portfolio Managers of the Hennessy Stance ESG ETF discussed the lack of breadth in the 2023 market, the portfolio’s fluctuating sector weightings, ESG regulations, and the outlook for sustainable investing.

February 2024
  • Kyle Balkissoon
    Kyle Balkissoon
    Portfolio Manager
  • Bill Davis
    Bill Davis
    Portfolio Manager

Information about the Hennessy Stance ESG ETF (the “Fund”), a semi-transparent actively managed exchange-traded fund ("ETF") with a Portfolio Reference Basket structure:

The Fund is different from traditional ETFs. Traditional ETFs tell the public what assets they hold each day. The Fund will not. This may create additional risks for your investment. For example:

  • You may have to pay more money to trade the Fund’s shares. The Fund will provide less information to traders, who tend to charge more for trades when they have less information.
  • The price you pay to buy Fund shares on an exchange may not match the value of the fund’s portfolio. The same is true when you sell shares. These price differences may be greater for the Fund compared to other ETFs because it provides less information to traders.
  • These additional risks may be even greater in bad or uncertain market conditions.
  • The Fund will publish on its website each day a “Portfolio Reference Basket” designed to help trading in shares of the Fund. While the Portfolio Reference Basket includes all the names of the Fund’s holdings, it is not the Fund’s actual portfolio.

The differences between the Fund and other ETFs may also have advantages. By keeping certain information about the Fund portfolio secret, the Fund may face less risk that other traders can predict or copy its investment strategy. This may improve the Fund’s performance. If other traders are able to copy or predict the Fund’s investment strategy, however, this may hurt the Fund’s performance.

For additional information regarding the unique attributes and risks of the Fund, see the Prospectus and SAI.

What surprised you the most about the equity market in 2023?

The lack of the number of stocks contributing to the market’s return was most surprising. Until the fourth quarter of 2023, virtually all the gains were attributed to the top seven positions in the S&P 500® Index, i.e., the companies with the largest market caps, driven by euphoria around artificial intelligence. These “Magnificent Seven” stocks (Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Nvidia, Tesla and Meta Platforms) were up an average of 107% for the year, yet in 2022 these same stocks averaged a 50% decline. 

However, in the fourth quarter, we saw a greater participation of stocks in market performance and anticipate that it will continue in 2024.

How have sector weightings changed over 2023? 

With the rebalancing of the portfolio, the ETF’s sector weightings change each quarter. In the fourth quarter, STNC had no exposure to Consumer Staples, which is somewhat rare for the portfolio. For example, in the first quarter of 2023, the ETF was overweight Staples, at 13% of the portfolio, compared to the S&P 500. In general, the portfolio tends to be overweight Industrials and Health Care relative to the S&P 500, and 2023 was no exception.

The Fund began 2023 with an underweight in Technology but ended up the year with an overweight to the sector. However, we maintain a maximum position size of 3.55% while Microsoft is now a 7% weighting in the S&P 500 and Apple is 6.7%. We believe it’s risky to have nearly 14% of the portfolio in just two names and 26% in just seven names. 

Would you please provide the investment case for a few stocks that have remained in the portfolio from previous quarters?

WW Grainger has been in the portfolio over the past few quarters. From an ESG standpoint, the company scores well on carbon productivity and board gender diversity; fundamentally, the current driver for inclusion is its return on equity. Similarly, Mastercard has consistently been a better-than-average ESG company, excels at sustainable investments, and is currently forecasting an attractive 3-year revenue growth.

Would you please provide an update on the status of ESG regulation and how it might affect companies’ sustainability goals?

In March 2022, the SEC issued a proposed rule to enhance and standardize climate risk disclosure requirements of public companies. This rule has yet to be finalized, and so thus far it’s difficult to speculate on its potential impact. Our view is that it will have significantly less impact than recently enacted laws elsewhere. Specifically, California recently passed SB 253 which requires that businesses with more than $1B in revenue that conduct business in the state must verify and disclose their scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, a parallel California bill (SB 261) requires businesses to publicly disclose physical and transition climate risks and how they are addressing them. We believe this act may force many large companies to be more transparent around these issues.

What is your outlook for sustainable investing over 2024?

The political climate in the U.S. has slowed the march toward a lower carbon future, but it is not changing the underlying currents of movement toward greater disclosure and greater ambition towards de-carbonization. We believe many companies are viewing de-carbonization as an opportunity to grow market share and open new markets, but may be less likely to broadcast their efforts.